Sugar Grove residents petition ban on street-facing solar panels

A group of Sugar Grove residents are challenging a zoning ordinance that bans solar panels from front-facing roofs of residential homes.

The residents say the restriction denies homeowners optimal energy efficiency savings and other renewable energy benefits, while objections chiefly concern aesthetic values.

The policy has been in place since 2018 when the village first crafted its solar regulations, said Larry Jones of the village Planning Commission and Zoning Board of Appeals, who voted in support of the residents’ petition.

“Solar on the roadside of homes, generally speaking, the majority of the people in the Sugar Grove area thought it was tacky and ugly,” Jones said. “But that’s ‘18 and ‘19 — now we are in 2024, and solar is much more widely acceptable. The best thing the village can do is review, whenever requested by the residents, something that may be influenced by public opinion, since it is really the aesthetic view that causes people to not want it on the front of the buildings.”

“I believe that the president of the village and the trustees will do the right thing for the community,” Jones added.

The village board will vote on an official petition to change the policy at its April 16 meeting. Sugar Grove administrator Scott Koeppel declined to speak specifically on the issue, though he encouraged residents to share their comments with the village.

“It's just a policy decision that the board has made. I don't want to put words in their mouth, and ultimately, they're the ones that have to vote on it,” he said. “... The staff and the village board always want to hear from people, so if you have concerns, comments, or what have you about anything that's up, please share that to help make the decision.”

One Sugar Grove couple who is leading the charge to change the ordinance said the restriction puts the village behind other municipalities.

“It's kind of weird to me that we would want to be at the very back of the pack in terms of leaning forward to what I would hope that most people agree is the future, which is that we need to be thinking about renewable energy sources,” resident Rebecca Brocker said.

Brocker and her fiancee, Mike Rayburn, moved to Sugar Grove last year with the intention of installing solar on their home. Rayburn had installed panels on his previous home in Monroe Center, a village in Ogle County southeast of Rockford.

“Tax incentives paid for about 77% of my install, and there was an extreme reduction in electric payments,” Rayburn said. “At its core, (solar) is kind of a financial boon for ourselves and residents in general. It's kind of a buffer against rising costs through electrical service providers. And for me personally, I’m passionate about renewable energy and going green.”

The couple added that solar panel placement can have a significant impact on an array’s electricity production and the resulting savings, especially if a home is south-facing.

For instance, one resident’s attempts to install solar panels on her roof were blocked by the restriction.

“It wasn't until the time came for the city to issue the permit that I learned that they did not approve street-facing panels. I called to ask why. No answer could be given other than ‘aesthetics,’” Sugar Grove resident and science teacher Pat Sweeney wrote in a public comment last month. “This is an unacceptable answer. When I see houses with professionally installed solar panels, I don't see an eyesore. I see a family making a money-saving, green choice."

Jenny Whidden is a climate change and environment writer working with the Daily Herald through a partnership with Report For America supported by The Nature Conservancy. To help support her work with a tax-deductible donation, see

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